Writing while angry

[Author’s note: it’s been a long time since I’ve written here, so what follows is reactive and immediate. It may also be triggering.]

When I was in high school, I read The Long Walk, a novella by Stephen King, published under his pen name Richard Bachman. It’s a brilliant piece. The gist of the plot is that in a dystopian United States, young men enter a lottery for the chance to be one of 100 boys chosen compete in a contest in which they try to outwalk 99 other boys to win their greatest desire. The reality of the fact that they’re basically committing suicide doesn’t hit until the first few deaths. You see, anyone who drops below 4 mph a certain number of times is killed on the spot. As the walk progresses, the boys awaken to the reality of their deathwish and the social circumstances that got them there. In the end, even the winner is an empty shell, wiped clean of all anger, desire, identity.

In that same collection is a novella called Rage. It’s a very difficult read, given where we are a society. You see, it’s about a school shooting. In it, King explores the social factors that fail teenagers. In the end, it wasn’t the violence that King wanted to examine – it was the pressures that make violence a reality. In the years since the novella’s publication, numerous school shootings have taken place. King asked that the story be pulled from publication in 1999, wrote about why in 2013, and has donated proceeds from that writing to gun control efforts.

Each of these stories depicts a society in which self-destruction is the only path for the protagonists. These stories paint a world in which the downtrodden fight for scraps and compete to the death for a mere chance to live a life that promises more than fighting for the next meal. (For a real in-your-face metaphor, read The Running Man novella – it’s far darker than the movie.) These works are meant to horrify, but they are also meant to shock you into thinking.

Stephen King’s writings came to mind when I heard of yet another school shooting, coming so close after two other shocking domestic terrorist attacks in Buffalo and California. I hesitate even calling them “shocking,” because it is so common anymore. We are drowning in violence. We are buried in helplessness. We are suffocated by inaction.

King’s writings came to mind because we are living in a society that incubates violence. To be clear, I do not exonerate the killers. They are evil. They are horrible. They have destroyed so much. They are monsters.

But they are our monsters.

We celebrate notoriety and grant celebrity to the worst of us. We cry ”thoughts and prayers” while we profit from ensuring the next attack will happen. The news cycle never ends, politicians pad their pockets, and legislative progress halts in the name of grandstanding.

I’m fucking angry about it.

I don’t have patience for it anymore.

And before you dismiss my anger, listen.

I am a gun owner. I have a shotgun and a .22 pistol. I enjoy trap shooting and target shooting. And I would gladly relinquish how I own and use those guns if it meant no one else would feel like violence is the only answer. I am a registered independent, and I would gladly vote for legislation that addresses inequality in society and works to ease the burdens of those who feel like their only chance to leave a legacy is to destroy lives.

In the immortal words of Ted Lasso, we are broken. We have built a system that limits hope. We have exchanged our social contract for control. We have been sold the lie that security means success. We keep voting for people who are owned by lobbyists. We focus on banning books when we are failing our fellow human beings. We are systematically closing off choices for all but a few and as a result, we have people who think that there is only one path.

I don’t know the full answer. We need gun reform. We need social programs. We need pay equity. We need to eliminate white supremacists. We need campaign reform. We need to remember we need each other.

The dead deserve better. Their families deserve better.

If you are also angry, that’s good. Let’s channel that anger into action. Let’s stop pretending there’s nothing we can do. If you believe in prayer, then pray. And when you’re done, roll up your sleeves.

We’ve got work to do.

If you’re struggling with feeling helpless, here are some resources for you to take action:

  • Moms Demand Action: Moms Demand Action is a grassroots movement of Americans fighting for public safety measures that can protect people from gun violence.
  • Sandy Hook Promise: Sandy Hook Promise envisions a future where children are free from shootings and acts of violence in their schools, homes, and communities.
  • Buffalo 5-14 Survivor Fund: In partnership with Tops, the National Compassion Fund has established the Buffalo 5/14 Survivors Fund to provide direct financial assistance to the survivors of the deceased and those directly affected by this tragedy.
  • Mental Health Support: A starting place to find help.
  • Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence: Dedicated to raising transparency about candidate funding and endorsement of gun control.
  • Contact Your Senator: Information on writing or calling your senator demanding action.
  • Contact Your Representative: Information on writing or calling your representative demanding action.
  • VolunteerMatch: If you want to make a difference locally, this site can help you get started.

It’s a matter of perspective

It’s June 2021 – roughly 13 months since life in the US pretty much stopped and we all wondered what the hell was next. Surely lockdowns wouldn’t last more than a couple of weeks. Surely people would recognize the public health was more important than politics. Surely we’d all be okay.

Well, some of those things are true. Lockdowns lasted a hell of a lot longer than two weeks (and many people around the world are still experiencing them). Many people recognized that wearing masks, social distancing, and getting vaccinated were an important part of helping society get past this…but certainly not all people felt that way, even those we assumed would be first in line. And while most people who got sick recovered, not everyone was okay.

While we were all in the middle of this, it was really hard to have perspective on what was going on. I know we took it a day, a week, a month at a time. As more people get vaccinated and society starts to open up, we’re stepping back into our routines – some with no hesitation at all, others with more caution. We’re sort of in the middle – we got vaccinated as soon as we could, we wore masks for a week or two after the CDC said we didn’t have to, and now we’ve pretty much gone back to our old lives. Admittedly, we have done so with increased social distancing and a permanent supply of hand sanitizer.

I don’t think, though, we have taken a moment to collectively look back at what we’ve been through – at the complete and utter stoppage of life as we knew it, and at the emergence of cautious optimism for the future. This hit home when I was finishing up transferring some newsletter posts to a website refresh at work. Nothing terribly profound in the activity – but as I moved from the most recent newsletter to those written back in January 2020, the change was striking.

Posts from January 2020 were so optimistic and forward-looking – new year, new focus, LET’S DO THIS. Then we started seeing the reality of what was going on, and posts were more about staying safe, providing resources, and simply surviving – both personally and professionally. The middle of the year was a complete 180-degree turn from where we had started the year, like we fell off a cliff. Recently, the focus is back to business, back to looking forward, back to the wider world.

As someone who majored in history (true story!), I am so curious as to how future generations will look back on this period of time. What records will survive? How will they judge the way things were handled? In 100 years, what will society even look like? Were we irretrievably traumatized by the harsh relief of many of our fellow citizens exposing their true selves? Were we inspired by the utter selflessness of so many of our fellow citizens continuing to fight for the truth and decency? What perspective will distance lend?

I hope we – and I mean the global ‘we’ – don’t move on too quickly from what has happened. I hope we take some time to look back and marvel at the highs and mourn the lows. I hope we see this for what it is – a real-world scenario of what might (and did) happen if the world population is threatened. And I hope we recognize we could have done better.

We need to do better.

We need perspective.

We know how lucky we are

There is no doubt about it – 2020 has been a challenge.

And it started before COVID hit.

We sailed into January believing the worst was behind us. Our dog, Boo, had survived emergency surgery in December, emerging from a twisted stomach without her spleen but with all stomach tissue intact. It was pretty much a best case scenario. We celebrated Christmas and the New Year, certain we had more time with our older, but still puppy-like, dog. 

Then less than two months later, the rug was pulled out from under us and Boo threw a blood clot and despite emergency care, we lost her 24 hours later. After 10 years, we were suddenly coming home to an empty house. It was terrible. 

And then the world started shutting down.

Our last personal trip was the day after we lost Boo (planned trip to Chicago for the Hustle), and my last business trip was early March. Shortly after that, my choir concert was cancelled, and eventually, the rest of the season. We watched and waited to see what would happen with jobs, with family, with health. We hoped things would improve by August so we could take a planned trip to California, but soon realized there was no way. Our annual pre-holiday trip didn’t even get to the planning stages, knowing we were in this for the long haul.

Yet through it all, we know we are lucky. 

Neither of us lost our jobs and the work we do is easily done remotely. We have good health insurance. We have a house large enough to accommodate both of us working from home for the foreseeable future. We have the means and the know-how to order what we need online. We have remained healthy. Our extended family has remained healthy. The money we had set aside for our California trip was repurposed into long-overdue home improvements (along with everyone else in our neighborhood, apparently). We already had a home gym set up, for goodness’ sake. Overall, we are doing okay.

Every once in a while, one of us will comment on a story we’ve read or a segment on television we just saw, saying, “We have been really fortunate through all of this.” 

That doesn’t mean we don’t have bad days. We get frustrated, depressed, annoyed, and bored – just like everyone else. But we haven’t had to say good-bye to a loved one via Facetime, which puts it all in sharp perspective. 

For all of this, we are grateful. I won’t say we’re “blessed,” because to me that infers we are somehow special or ordained. No – we are flat out lucky. Yes, we follow health guidelines (masks and sanitizer on hand at all times), but lots of people who do that have gotten sick. Yes, we try to be thoughtful about our careers, but lots of people who do that were laid off through no fault of their own. We are simply benefitting from some cosmic lottery that allows us to weather this particular storm in relative security. And so, we are grateful.

There is no motive behind sharing this, other than to say – beware of attribution bias. Yes, we might try to make our own luck, but that saying, “Man plans and God laughs,” exists for a reason. People can do everything right and still struggle. And people can do everything wrong and succeed. You can be proud of your accomplishments AND acknowledge the element of chance that ensured the cards fell in your favor.

Final proof of our luck? We had been following an Akita breeder on Instagram for future consideration. Their dogs had similar personalities to Boo and we thought someday, they might be an option when the time came to consider a new dog. The day we lost Boo, a litter of puppies was born. We were able to put a deposit down, got our first pick of the puppies, and welcomed Baloo to our home the week before my birthday. He’s a doofus of a dog who tries our patience like only a 10-month-old puppy can. 

And we are so lucky to have him.